Ultraman: A Special-Effects Fantasy Series (ウルトラマン 空想特撮シリーズ Urutoraman: Kūsō Tokusatsu Shirīzu), more simply and widely known as Ultraman (ウルトラマン Urutoraman), is a Japanese Tokusatsu television series that first aired in 1966 and is a follow-up to the television series Ultra Q, though not technically a sequel or spin-off. The show was produced by the Tsuburaya Productions, and was broadcast on Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) from July 17, 1966 to April 9, 1967, with a total of 39 episodes (40, counting the pre-premiere special that aired on July 10, 1966).
Although Ultraman is the first series to feature an Ultra-Being, it is actually the second show in the Ultra Series; Ultra Q was the first. In fact, Ultraman opens with the Ultra Q logo exploding into the Ultraman logo. Ultraman ultimately became a major pop culture phenomenon in Japan and then in Asia, and the rest of the world. The show's success spawned dozens of sequels, spin-offs, imitators, parodies and remakes.
This series is said to take place at some point in the 1990s; this was retconned once Return of Ultraman was released in 1971, placing the events of the series in the year of its production, 1966.
The first series begins when SSSP member Shin Hayata is flying his plane and a red sphere of light crashes into his Sub VTOL. The sphere turns out to be the transport (Travel Sphere) for a red-and-silver giant being who calls himself Ultraman. Feeling remorse for having killed the human, he merges his essence with Hayata to revive him. In return, Hayata serves as the human form for this being, and whenever danger threatens, and the resources of the Science Patrol are not enough to counter it, he raises and activates a device called the Beta Capsule and transforms to Ultraman to save the day.
Ultraman's central characters were created by Eiji Tsuburaya from Tsuburaya Productions, a pioneer in special effects who was responsible for bringing Godzilla to life in 1954. The show's predecessor was a series called Ultra Q, a black and white series with 28 episodes very much like the original Outer Limits, although some compare it to today's The X-Files or The Twilight Zone.
Scrapped Working Plans
- WoO (ＷoO Wū): This story featured a corporeal space creature with two large eyes, who befriended a reporter named Jôji Akita, but the Self Defense Forces, who perceived the alien as a threat, went after them. This was basically the monster version of the British science fiction series Doctor Who (1963), and Woo's personality was also to be comical. The name "Woo" ended up being used for an otherwise unrelated, yeti-like monster, in episode 30 of Ultraman. Later, Tsuburaya Productions ultimately produce a series dubbed Bio Planet WoO, in January 2006, but this series is very loosely based on the original concept.
- Bemular (ベムラー Bemurā), then retitled Scientific Special Search-Party: Bemular (科学特捜隊ベムラー Kagaku Tokusō Tai: Bemurā): The main characters are a defense force, with the same Japanese name as the Science Patrol, but disguised as an art/photography team. One of the members, little did anyone (even his teammates) know, gained the ability to transform into a giant birdlike humanoid monster called Bemular (not the same Bemular that Ultraman fight in episode 1 of the actual series), who defends Earth from monsters, aliens and other threats. Unlike Woo, Bemular was a tough and righteous fighter, and he looked very similar in design to the title monster of the 1967 kaiju film Gappa: The Triphibian Monster. Allegedly, the plot was scrapped when it was worried audiences might have trouble telling that one monster was good and the other evil.
- Redman (レッドマン Reddoman): The title hero of this project slightly resembled Ultraman as he came to be known, but he looked more demonic and had horns. He came to Earth after his planet was destroyed by aliens from Planet X. Both Bemular and Redman were designed by Tohl Narita, who also came up with the final design for Ultraman based on his Redman design, now resembling a less-scary Buck Rogers-style alien being, mixed with a bit of the iconic "Roswell Alien." The characteristic Color Timer, more familiar to American audiences as the "warning light" on Ultraman's chest, was added at the eleventh hour. Ultraseven also shared this working title, but it was ultimately dropped, and the title eventually became its own series.
The Ultraman series used various monster costumes, known as kaiju in Japan, prior to other series such as Kamen Rider and Himitsu Sentai Gorenger. The principals were played by famous monster suit actor Haruo Nakajima, who performed as the original Godzilla. Another Toho actor, Satoshi "Bin" Furuya, was sought out for the role of Ultraman, because of his tall stature and perfect proportions. Nakajima had an outdoor-sports and martial-arts background, and they decided that Ultraman would not seem alien if he was using earth-bound martial arts techniques. So Ultraman's fighting style was a mixture of grappling, Greco-Roman wrestling, and some Japanese martial arts, which evolved during the course of the series. Often costumes of famous monsters like Godzilla (as Jirass in "The Mysterious Dinosaur Base") and Baragon would be recycled and altered, sometimes with nothing more than spray paint and often while the actor was still inside. Nakajima quipped once that the staggering gait of some of the monsters he portrayed was due less to his acting than to the fumes he had to endure. Some of the quadrupedal monster costumes could not be shown fully as his legs dragging on the ground would have been exposed, a necessary allowance to maintain balance in the often cumbersome outfits. Also, the expense of repairing the scale cities and landscapes used for battle scenes required economy of movement and meticulous planning.
SSSP/United Nations Scientific Investigation Agency
- Alien Baltan
- Red King
- Mummy Man
- Gavadon A and B
- Alien Baltan II
- Alien Zarab/Imitation Ultraman
- Underground People
- Red King II
- Giant Fuji
- Alien Baltan III
- Kemur Man II
- Alien Zarab II
- Alien Mefilas
- Alien Zetton
- Shin Hayata (ハヤタ シン Hayata Shin): Susumu Kurobe (黒部 進 Kurobe Susumu)
- Toshio Muramatsu (ムラマツ・トシオ Muramatsu Toshio): Akiji Kobayashi (小林 昭二 Kobayashi Akiji)
- Akiko Fuji (フジ アキコ Fuji Akiko): Hiroko Sakurai (櫻井 浩子 Sakurai Hiroko)
- Daisuke Arashi (アラシ・ダイスケ Arashi Daisuke): Sandayū Dokumamushi (毒蝮 三太夫 Dokumamushi Sandayū)
- Mitsuhiro Ide (イデ・ミツヒロ Ide Mitsuhiro): Masanari Nihei (二瓶 正也 Nihei Masanari)
- Isamu Hoshino (ホシノ・イサム Hoshino Isamu): Akihide Tsuwaza (津沢 彰秀 Tsuzawa Akihide)
- Narrator (ナレーター Narētā): Koji Ishizaka (石坂浩二 Ishizaka Koji) (1-19), Hikari Urano (浦野光 Urano Hikari) (20-39)
- Peter Fernandez
- Corrine Orr
- Earl Hammond
- Opening Theme
- Ultraman no Uta (ウルトラマンの歌 Urutoraman no Uta lit. "Song of Ultraman")
In 2006, BCI/Eclipse officially released Ultraman on DVD under license from then rightsholder Chaiyo Productions. These releases featured the original Japanese soundtrack and the English dub. When Navarre folded BCI/Eclipse in December 2008, the series was shuffled over to Navarre's other home video label, Mill Creek Entertainment. In June 2009, Mill Creek re-released the complete series set on September 29, 2009, in a 4-disc set with the same special features.
In Japan, there have been numerous releases in numerous home video formats over the last 25 years (from VHS to DVD) on several labels, including Bandai's various home video divisions, including Bandai Visual. On April 2013, Tsuburaya held a press conference announcing the new Ultra Series show and character, Ultraman Ginga, where they also announced that the original 1966 show will be given an HD remaster treatment in Japan.
On July 2013, Tsuburaya released an HD transfer of Ultraman on Blu-ray titled Ultraman HD Remaster 2.0, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Tsuburaya Productions. Tsuburaya plans to release the series on three separate box sets, each containing 13 episodes. The first box set was released on July 10, 2013, the second on October 25, 2013 and the final set is planned for January 29, 2014.
A Malaysian DVD Boxset was released by VGB Network in 2013, containing Malaysian subtitles and English subtitles. Ultraman Memorial Box features 4 episodes in each DVD, and the last features 3 episodes. Ultraman Blu-Ray Box I features episodes 1-13, Box II features episodes 14-26, and Box III features episodes 27-29.
Mill Creek Entertainment also released the series under Blu-Ray and Steelbook editions in 2019, along with Ultra Q. The company would also release an exclusive "The Birth of Ultraman" collection on Ultraman Day (July 10), 2020, which features The Birth of Ultraman pre-premiere special, along with select episodes (1, 2, 19, 26, 27, 33, and 37) of the series, in both Japanese and English dubbed audio.